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Nature Republic CEO’s lawyer is in hot water

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May 11,2016
Prosecutors arrested a lawyer Monday night for allegedly taking bribes from the imprisoned CEO of Nature Republic and promising to lobby public officials on his behalf - even requesting a judge to consider allowing him bail.

Jung Woon-ho, CEO of the popular cosmetics brand Nature Republic, is currently serving an eight-month term in prison for gambling in illegal poolrooms in the Philippines and Macau from March 2012 to October 2014. He was arrested last October for betting some 10 billion won ($8.5 million). He is scheduled to be released in August.

Jeong made headlines two weeks ago when one of his lawyers, Choi You-jeong, sued him for physical assault. Local police said Jeong twisted Choi’s arm and yelled expletives at her during a prison visit.

But the prosecution did a U-turn and started investigating Choi.

Choi, a 46-year-old female lawyer, is accused of taking some 2 billion won from Jeong to lobby public officials on his behalf, which violates the Attorney-at-Law Act.

According to authorities, Jeong reportedly demanded that Choi return the 2 billion won he paid in advance to help him get out of jail on bail, as those efforts fell through.

The prosecution probe into Choi has led them into another unexpected direction - she may have received more illicit funds from another imprisoned executive.

“I paid Choi more than 5 billion won as part of legal fees,” Song Chang-soo, former CEO of an investment consulting company, told prosecutors recently.

Song is serving a 13-year term after being convicted last month of investment fraud amounting to some 130 billion won.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Choi made inappropriate offers and promises to Song to lobby public officials on his behalf. The authorities are looking into how the money was spent.

Choi took on Song’s case last year after her common-law husband, a 44-year-old man surnamed Lee, allegedly introduced her to Song. After that, Lee worked at Song’s company. Lee also allegedly received illicit funds from Song, according to prosecutors. He is suspected to be in hiding.

On Monday, the Korean Bar Association called upon prosecutors to investigate the Nature Republic CEO on allegations of lobbying a myriad of people in the legal profession and spending at least 5 billion won in the effort. The association suspects Jeong received a shortened jail term in a second trial as a result of such lobbying.

Jeong’s term was reduced from a year to eight months after an appeals trial.

The investigation into Jeong may lead to other arrests on people who received bribes to lobby on his behalf, prosecutors say, including a broker who allegedly met with a judge to intercede on behalf of Jeong.

BY SEO BOK-HYEON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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